MSU professors release documentary critical
of media coverage of FBI shooting in Dearborn
Published: Tuesday, December 07, 2010
DEARBORN — A documentary on the controversial FBI shooting of Imam Luqman Abdullah at an eastside warehouse last year debuted last week at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.
The film was put together by a team of journalism school faculty from Michigan State University, and examines how local media outlets told the story.
Abdullah, the longtime leader of the Masjid al-Haqq mosque in Detroit, was killed in a hail of gunfire in October 2009 after he allegedly shot an FBI dog during a sting operation.
The shooting took place at an FBI-controlled industrial facility on Michigan Avenue and Miller Road.
The film focused on the narrative local media used, which was based on the FBI’s portrayal of Abdullah as a radical Muslim bent on creating a separate Islamic state within the United States.
That characterization was in the FBI’s complaint against Abdullah and was the most easily accessible source of information when the story first broke. But critics — and in many ways, the documentary —say that portrayal was slapdash and largely ignored what people who knew Abdullah had to say about it.
Furthermore, the documentary calls into question the veracity of that narrative. There are some seemingly incongruent elements to why Abdullah was being targeted for arrest — fencing stolen electronics — and what FBI investigators had to say about him — “terrorist.”
“There are people who are raising a lot of issues now about how the FBI is handling terrorist investigations and when I saw this it really kind of spoke to that skepticism, in my mind,” said Salah Hassan, one of the film’s producers and an MSU English Department faculty member.
Hassan created the film along with Geri Alumit Zeldes, of the MSU journalism school, and Brian Bowe, a doctoral student at MSU in media and information studies. The film is part of an MSU project called “Islam, Muslims, and Journalism Education.”
The film featured interviews with FBI Detroit Director Andrew Arenas; Dawud Walid, the head of the Council on American Islamic Relations-Michigan; and family members and followers of Abdullah.
There also was significant file footage used from a 1986 documentary by legendary Detroit newsman Mort Crim, titled “Blacks in Islam.” Abdullah was one of the people featured in “Blacks in Islam.”
Bowe said the group approached the film from a scholarly journalism perspective.
“We didn’t know much about (the shooting) when it came to our attention but it really raises some very compelling issues about coverage of Muslims, the over-dependency on government information by journalists, and really what the role of the press is in reporting news to citizens,” he said.
The group said they decided to make the film after a chance meeting with Walid, who has been one of the FBI’s most vocal critics over the incident.
“When we met with Dawud and he started talking about the media bias in the coverage of Imam Luqman’s shooting, he just articulated the chain of events (relating to media coverage) so well,” Zeldes said.